The president of this teachers’ union has a question for Congress: “What are you going to do? | WFAE 90.7

Originally posted by The 19th

“What are you going to do?”

That’s the question Rebecca “Becky” S. Pringle, president of the National Education Association, is asking Congress after Tuesday’s horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers and injured 17 other children and adults.

The Uvalde shooting was the 27th school shooting this year and the deadliest school shooting in Texas history. The outburst of a local teenager who bought the assault rifles used in the massacre for his 18th birthday the previous week has renewed efforts by educators, parents and students to get lawmakers to reform gun laws. fire. But it has also reignited calls from conservative lawmakers to arm teachers, a proposal that research finds educators widely oppose.

The NEA is one of America’s largest unions, with more than 3 million educators and school personnel, nearly 80% of whom are women. A former middle school science teacher with 31 years of education experience, Pringle has led the organization since 2020. The 19th spoke with Pringle about whether teachers should be armed, how gun violence regularly affects children and how his union is trying to get lawmakers through. comprehensive gun reform.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Nadra Nittle: In the wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, conservative politicians are once again arguing that arming teachers will keep children safe. They made a similar argument after 17 college students and adults were gunned down in Parkland, Florida in 2018. What’s your response to that idea?

Becky Pringle: Arming teachers – that’s not going to help change that, and it’s not just us as educators saying that. That’s what our students say. We know that more guns make our environments less safe. We already know that. We also know that placing this added burden and responsibility on an educator to make a split-second decision on whether or not to take someone’s life – that’s not something for which we were trained, nor should we be responsible for being trained to do. Our responsibility is to teach, nurture, and protect our students, and that should never include the responsibility of having a gun to defend them.

Multiple research studies have found that the mental health of students and educators has suffered throughout the pandemic. Now school communities are reeling from the mass shooting in Uvalde or even the racist rampage in Buffalo before that. Could these atrocities worsen the mental health of students and school staff, and what could that mean?

There is no doubt that this has added to the grief, the loss, the overwhelm, the burnout of our educators across the country. Not only are our educators afraid, our students are afraid, our parents are afraid. The fear is not just what happened in our schools recently, but what happened in Buffalo at a community market. So this fear of wondering if your child or loved one will come home in the evening is very real.

We’ve talked for the past few years about keeping our students safe with regards to COVID, but it’s not just COVID. These are all the crises it has spawned – the increase in the number of our students and families who are homeless, the number of our students who go hungry every day and who were before the pandemic. So the issue of student safety and well-being and the mental health of our students has long been a top concern for educators, but the pandemic has made it worse. To have these acts of violence, there is no doubt that it has an impact. But let me say this, as I have spoken to educators over the past two days, even as they try to navigate through this haze of grief, shock and disbelief, they are determined to act. They are determined because the inaction of elected leaders in this country is unacceptable.

Speaking of taking action, a lot of people are feeling hopeless right now. The Uvalde shooting happened nearly 10 years after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. People ask what has changed since. What policy recommendations does the NEA have for lawmakers, and how are you all working to drive change?

We engage our members with information on how they can take action. We call on them to activate their vast network of not only fellow educators, but also community members, parents and civil rights organizations to act with them, as we know that the vast majority of this country thinks we should use common sense gun laws.

Ten years after Sandy Hook, and now we’re seeing more of our babies that were shot, so we have to stay focused on that. Unfortunately, attention is diverted to something else. This is part of what those who oppose sensible gun laws are trying to do. They try to distract us from other things like offering to arm the teachers. They just distract us with the debate, and we won’t be distracted with it. We asked our members to call on members of Congress to act now, and we will continue to do so until the election, because if they do not act, the only thing we have to do is replace them with someone one that will be … at the state level, at the governor’s level, at the federal level.

What specific gun control policies would you like to see implemented to keep students safe?

We called for background checks, preventing people with long histories of mental illness from having access to firearms. Also, assault weapons don’t belong anywhere. Beyond school shootings, there are certainly ongoing shootings in our neighborhoods, especially neighborhoods of color in states where guns are pouring in from other places. We want legislation to clamp down on the ability of guns to flood our streets, neighborhoods and communities. We work closely with our allies and partners in this area – Everytown for Gun Safety, March for Our Lives, the Brady Campaign.

You mentioned March for Our Lives, the student gun violence prevention group formed after the Parkland shooting. In light of the Uvalde massacre, students have already begun to walk out of schools. March for Our Lives held a protest at the NRA convention in Houston on May 28 and is also holding protests nationwide on June 11. What message do you have for students marching to keep their schools safe?

Do not stop. I can remember when [March for Our Lives board member and Parkland shooting survivor] David Hogg said: “We’re not done yet.” And that must be a rallying call until we get the common sense gun laws we demand. We’re not done until our students are safe. We’re not done, and we won’t stop until that happens. So that’s my message to them, that they need to keep their voices heard in any way they can. When they are eligible to vote, they must be registered and vote. And when they are not eligible to vote, they must urge their parents and community members and everyone who can vote to vote for their safety. So don’t stop. Keep raising your voice and doing what it takes to protect their comrades.

Students and educators have not only engaged in activism against gun violence, but also against legislation that limits classroom discussions about race, gender, identity, sexual orientation or so-called sensitive topics. . The spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association told me after the Uvalde shooting that it was heartbreaking to see lawmakers spend so much time restricting what educators can teach while easing restrictions on firearms. fire. What do you think?

Elected leaders use these culture war tactics to stoke fear and divide us, and they do so in a concerted, intentional, and connected way. It’s all connected, including this latest twist on common-sense gun laws to talk about arming teachers. Educators are literally threatened, verbally threatened, physically threatened, threatened by our jobs to prevent us from teaching the true history of this country or giving students opportunities and spaces to have these conversations and develop the critical thinking skills that we need them to have. We know that these bills are all designed to divert our attention from investing in our students, in our communities and in our public schools. We will continue to talk about it, denounce it and demand that those in positions of power stand up against it. If they don’t, then November [midterm elections] are coming.

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